15 Sep 23

Motions to Quash: Challenging Federal Subpoenas in Court

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Last Updated on: 16th September 2023, 06:08 pm

Motions to Quash: Challenging Federal Subpoenas in Court

When you receive a federal subpoena requesting documents or testimony, you may want to file a motion to quash challenging the subpoena. Motions to quash can be an important tool for protecting your rights and interests. Here’s what you need to know about federal subpoena rules, grounds for quashing subpoenas, and best practices for filing successful motions.

Overview of Federal Subpoena Rules

In federal court, subpoenas are governed by Rule 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Some key provisions include [1]:

  • Subpoenas can request both documents and testimony from non-parties.
  • The serving party pays associated costs for compliance.
  • Subpoenas must allow reasonable time for compliance.
  • Grounds for quashing or modifying subpoenas are provided.
  • Motions to quash must be filed promptly.

Understanding these rules allows you to effectively respond to a federal subpoena.

Grounds for Quashing or Modifying

FRCP 45(d)(3) specifies situations where a subpoena should be quashed or modified [1]. Reasons a court may quash or modify include if the subpoena:

  • Fails to allow reasonable time for compliance.
  • Requires excessive travel by the witness.
  • Requires disclosure of privileged or protected information.
  • Subjects a person to undue burden.

Courts balance the relevance of requested information against the burden on the recipient. Overly broad or vague requests may be quashed.

Filing a Motion to Quash

If you have valid grounds, promptly file a motion to quash. Key steps include [2]:

  • Identifying the legal and factual basis for the motion.
  • Specifying the relief requested, such as quashing or modifying the subpoena.
  • Conferring with the serving party beforehand if possible.
  • Filing before the subpoena compliance deadline.

Work promptly to avoid waiving any objections. Filing a motion does not automatically stay your subpoena obligations.

Common Arguments in Motions to Quash

Some effective arguments to make in your motion include [3]:

  • The subpoena seeks irrelevant information.
  • Compliance would be unduly burdensome.
  • The requests are overbroad, vague or ambiguous.
  • The subpoena requests privileged information.
  • The subpoena fails to allow reasonable time.

Support arguments with affidavits, specific facts, and applicable case law. Seek to modify rather than quash if possible.

Opposing a Motion to Quash

If you served a subpoena and receive a motion to quash, you can file an opposition brief. Arguments may include [4]:

  • The information sought is relevant and necessary.
  • Compliance will not be unduly burdensome.
  • Requests are specific and narrowly tailored.
  • No privilege or confidentiality applies.
  • Modifying rather than quashing is appropriate.

Emphasize the importance of the requested discovery and demonstrate the issuing party acted in good faith.

The Court’s Ruling

The court will review the motion, any opposition brief, and attached evidence. It may hold a hearing for arguments. Then the court will rule by [1]:

  • Quashing the subpoena in whole or part.
  • Modifying the subpoena’s timing or scope.
  • Ordering compliance with the subpoena as issued.
  • Imposing sanctions for inappropriate motions.

Courts seek to balance discovery needs against undue burden. Follow court orders to avoid contempt.

Complying with Subpoenas

If your motion is denied, you must comply with the subpoena unless you appeal. Steps include [5]:

  • Gathering responsive documents diligently.
  • Producing documents in the requested format.
  • Organizing records and using descriptive Bates labels.
  • Appearing at the scheduled deposition.

Comply in good faith. Seek modifications if significant issues arise preventing compliance.

Appealing a Court’s Order

If your motion to quash is denied, you may be able to appeal the court’s order. Grounds for appeal include [6]:

  • Incorrect application of discovery rules.
  • Failure to adequately protect privileged information.
  • Ordering compliance that would violate other laws.
  • Imposing unreasonable burdens relative to the needs of the case.

Consult experienced appellate counsel to determine if appealing is appropriate. Appeals must meet strict deadlines.

Subpoena Alternatives

Beyond motions to quash, parties have alternatives to subpoenas like:

  • Voluntary cooperation requests
  • FOIA requests to government agencies
  • Court orders under FRCP 34
  • Requests for foreign discovery under FRCP 28(b)

Weigh whether alternatives better serve your discovery needs.

Subpoena Pitfalls

Avoid common subpoena problems like :

  • Requesting clearly irrelevant or privileged information.
  • Imposing undue burdens relative to the case needs.
  • Using overbroad or vague requests.
  • Failing to properly serve the subpoena.
  • Not allowing reasonable time for compliance.

Flawed subpoenas are more likely to be quashed. Careful drafting is key.

Subpoenas on Non-Parties

Subpoenas against non-parties face higher scrutiny. As a non-party :

  • Object to requests for information available from parties.
  • Highlight undue burdens imposed on non-parties.
  • Argue a court order under FRCP 34 should be required.

Courts are more protective of non-parties who did not choose to be part of the litigation.

Subpoenas and Privilege

Subpoenas often seek privileged information like :

  • Attorney-client communications.
  • Attorney work product.
  • Trade secrets.
  • Confidential business information.

Carefully review subpoenas for privileged information and object where appropriate.

Consult an Attorney

Federal subpoena rules are complex. If served with a subpoena, promptly consult a lawyer experienced with subpoena litigation. An attorney can advise you on responding, objecting, negotiating modifications, and filing any necessary motions.